The American Flag is the most iconic image to represent our nation. Flying high above everything from government office buildings to your front porch, the flag has come to symbolize everything that is great about our country. The current American Flag, composed of 13 alternating red and white stripes to symbolize the thirteen original colonies with 50 white stars on a field of blue in the top left side, has changed dramatically from its original version.
The first version of the American Flag, the Continental Colors, was the first flag used at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Known as the Grand Union Flag, this flag had a smaller version of the flag of Great Britain in the top left and thirteen alternating red and white stripes for the thirteen colonies. While a national flag was not formally adopted until June 14, 1777, this flag was first unveiled on Jan. 1, 1776, six months before the Declaration of Independence would be signed. Currently, Flag Day is held on June 14 each year.
Over the years, the flag has changed drastically due to the independence of America from Great Britain and the addition of each state into the United States. During the war of 1813 against Great Britain, the commanding officer of Fort McHenry, Maryland wanted to spook their enemy into submission and requested a flag to be made that was “so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance”.
Maryland flag maker Mary Pickersgill and her assistants used wool to create a 42-foot flag which would be the inspiration for the national song, the Star-Spangled Banner. The current flag, which has a star to represent each state and a bar to represent each of the thirteen original colonies, has been the version of the American flag that has been used the longest. On July, 4 2007, this flag beat the record of the 48-star flag which was used for 47 years from 1912-1959.
For more than half of the lifespan from when the original flag was used, there was no standard design, which helped to tell different stories about our country. “It’s to do with this peculiar fact that they didn’t standardise the design, so you could express different things within each flag,” art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon said.
“Generally speaking, a flag is a flag – it’s like a number plate or logo, it always stays the same. But in America it didn’t, which left room for people to express their creativity or their bile or their sadness.”
The American flag has been used for many years in various ceremonies and everyday use. In the military, they are displayed on the uniforms our service members wear. It is displayed on vehicles used, and given to grieving families when their loved ones have passed away in honor of their service.
In the event that a flag needs to be taken out of service because it is too worn to be used, there is a way to respectfully retire an American Flag by burning it. In the event that you do not know how to do so, you can always take it to your local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post and they will properly dispose of the flag. If you choose to retire a flag by burning, make sure to follow all EPA guidelines when creating the fire. Another less commonly used disposal method is to recycle the flag in the event the material is still able to be used.
The American flag, rich with its history of freedom, patriotism, and democracy, has been a cornerstone of this country. It has transcended the ages and given us a banner in which we have been able to display our love for our country. We use it to show we are Americans by flying it outside our homes and we cloak our service members in it when they come home to their final resting place. The flag is a symbol of perseverance and strength that will continue for decades to come.
The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to assisting those who proudly stand at attention when our flag is presented. We feel it is our duty to honor these men and women who serve our country in all aspects of their lives, including helping those who are in need of assistance while transitioning home from the battlefield. You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.